Service dog gets honorary diploma at college graduation and crowd goes wild, video shows

A service dog went to every university class with his owner.

So when graduation came, he got a diploma too.

Grace Mariani, a graduate of Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, crossed the stage with her service dog, Justin, on May 23, according to a post on the university’s Facebook page.

Justin, a 6-year-old yellow lab and golden retriever mix, had been to every class with Mariani as she studied to earn her bachelor’s of science in education, according to the university.

As university president Joseph E. Nyre hands Mariani her diploma, he leans down and presents a rolled paper tied with a ribbon to Justin, the video shows.

Justin sniffs it carefully before taking it in his mouth.

Then, the crowd goes wild.

Nyre pumps his hands in the air as roars and applause erupt from the audience.

A university spokesperson said Mariani was not available for an interview.

Academic Dean Joseph J. Martinelli told McClatchy News he got to know Mariani and Justin well over the course of Mariani’s college career.

He said he remembers seeing Justin and Mariani at a campus event sometime around Mariani’s sophomore year, and Justin was off leash playing catch with a big group of students.

“That was the first time I realized, this is special,” he said. “That dog pulled every one of those students together.”

He said he knew it was important to honor Justin during graduation and proposed the idea of giving him an honorary diploma. Registrar Autumn Bucior designed the diploma and a special bandanna for Justin.

Seeing them graduate together was “heartwarming,” he said.

“(Mariani) is just such a good person, and people need to know that service dogs are amazing and need to be cherished for what they do,” he said.

Mariani plans to go on to teach elementary and special education, with Justin by her side of course, Martinelli said.

She will be a “fantastic” teacher, he said, and her presence in the classroom with Justin will have a positive impact on students.

South Orange is about 20 miles west of New York City. Seton Hall University is a private, Catholic institution that enrolls about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, according to U.S. News and World Report.

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